Posts Tagged ‘Project Management’

Software development has changed a lot in just a few years. I remember not very long ago that it was common and expected to work long hours, even pull all nighters just to be able to meet a deadline or worse because the deadline was the following day and there were still dozens of defects to be fixed so the deliverable would barely work. Those days, fortunately, seem to be long gone. I have not been in a project where I have had to do those kind of stupid things, of course there have been times that I have worked a little overtime but those have been the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately there are a lot of managers who were developers in those days who still think that we live in those days and expect their development teams to work in that fashion. Not only expect it, but demand it.

Quite recently I was assigned to a project for one of the major credit card companies and we were having our planning game for the upcoming iteration. One of the stories was particularly large so we suggested to break it down in more manageable pieces and gave our estimates to which one of the customer’s managers said, and I quote, “I can lock down a couple of guys in a room and they will have this feature ready in a couple of days”. Needless to say every single one of the members in the team was quite upset about this remark. This was not a matter of challenging our estimate but to question our professionalism. Besides, it is widely known these days that this is the worst way of developing software since it is completely counterproductive and error prone, by the twelfth hour both guys would be making careless mistakes which would generate several very hard to debug defects and the readability of the code would be questionable to say the least.

Anyway, putting aside the fact that we were quite offended by his comment, you can probably imagine how this manager visualized how his team of a couple of guys could deliver his feature. In the end there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these two guys would pull it off, I have seen it many times before, some brilliant hero style developer getting a required feature to work in record time just before the deadline and he saves the day.

Of course as time goes by this feature will have to be maintained, defects will have to be fixed and requirements will change and guess what, the only person capable of doing that maintenance would be the hero developer who wrote the code because it is so tightly coupled and so tangled up that he is the only one who can understand what it is doing. Of course there would be no tests whatsoever so every time the code would get changed there would definitely be regressions all over the place. Every developer in the organization would dread the idea of working on that piece of code. Not to mention the huge expense these maintenance efforts would be.

I find it hard to believe, and really sad, that there are people, managers and developers alike, who think that we can and should develop software in this fashion. It almost seems as if these people have been living under a rock and have not heard anything about the trends of how to increase the quality of a software product. These people truly believe that the effort put on properly engineering the code and covering it with tests is a waste of time.

To be honest, sometimes I feel I am on the losing end of the battle and the vision of seeing software being developed with discipline and sound engineering practices is but a dream. But you know what, I do not care. I will keep pushing for building software with all the quality characteristics that so much literature, both off an online, is talking about. I will keep fighting against the idea that software development is somewhat of an art; that has got to stop. I will keep trying to evangelize as many people as I can and someday, maybe, we will see that software is built the same way as buildings, bridges, cars, or airplanes, with repeatable practices and solid discipline. I know I am not alone, there are lots of people who are striving for this, and we really hope you will be on our side.

A little while ago I mentioned that in his book Microsoft .Net Architecting Applications for the Enterprise, Dino Esposito says that a working untestable software product is no different than a working testable one; I am paraphrasing, but that the second one will have a better design. I also said that I did not agree with the first part of this statement and I promised that I would expose my arguments so, here we are.

First of all I want to make perfectly clear that I have the highest respect for Mr. Esposito. I believe he is brilliant and every developer who uses Microsoft’s technologies should read as much of his work as possible. So with that out of the way, let’s begin.

I believe that a software product is a living organism that after it is born it grows, changes, reacts to external stimuli, it can even reproduce in the form of other software that uses some of its components. Of course it cannot do it by itself, it is us the developers who make that happen and of course, we do not do it because we have nothing better to do, we do it because someone asked for it. The important thing to keep in mind is that whoever requested the work to be done on that software needs it for one of two reasons: to make money or to save money.

Our customers embark themselves on the arduous, painful, and stressful activity of sponsoring a software product because they have a specific business need and they hope that their new or enhanced software will eventually produce an increase in sales or profit, an increase in productivity, an improvement of their processes, or something of the sort which in the end it just drills down to making or saving money.

To illustrate this let’s imagine there are two competing companies that have a software product which provides all kinds of academic support to schools and universities. It turns out there is a new trend among universities which provides an amazing business opportunity to these companies but they need to enhance and add new features to their products in order to support it. Both products have been developed in-house and they still have their original teams working for these companies so all the developers know their respective code inside out. Both products work well and their code bases are reasonably clean.

After just a few months the first company has implemented just enough of the new features in order to provide the new services. They were able to do it quickly because every time a modification was ready their automated tests told them right away which existing features would break so the issues were dealt with immediately and the QA team did minimal regression testing so they could focus on testing deeply the new requirements.

On the other hand, the second company is still struggling with their release. Every time a new feature is checked in, the QA team needs to spend a few days on a full regression testing effort and when they find either something that broke or a defect on the new features the code goes back to the dev team, of course, which spends a few days figuring out how is it that the new feature broke the old one and how they can make both of them coexist.

Eventually the second company releases its product. Unfortunately their competitor’s has been around for some time now and they have been able to keep their existing customers, get new ones and even take a few of their competitor’s ones.

As you can see, in this fairy tale which can very well happen in the real world, both companies had a working software product, I never said that neither of them had a mess in their code quite the opposite, the only difference was that the first one was designed for testability and had a good suite of tests. Their product helped them to increase their sales so its main objective was fulfilled. The second company since they could not get their product to market quickly enough, lost market share, lost sales and the big investment on their software will be recovered later, if at all.

And there you have it, even though the second company had a working software product, in the end, it did not work for their benefit so do yourselves and your employers or customers a huge business favor and be sure to insist on designing the product with testability in mind and having a great suite of tests to protect it.

I dare say that anyone who has worked with software developers has come to the realization that we are very proud people. We take pride in solving challenging problems, in the smart way we implement solutions, sometimes even in the sheer beauty of the code we have written. And we should, software development is not a simple trade, we must develop a strong capacity to abstract the world around us and model it into a working solution by using some arcane language that not everybody can understand. In a nutshell, we must be good at describing and communicating our world to machines.

The only problem with that is that some developers take so much pride in these things that they forget why they are doing what they are doing.

Let’s think about it for a moment. There are only two possible reasons someone would be willing to pay huge amounts of money for a piece of software: make money, or save money. That’s it! That’s all there is to it. Those are the most important goals our incredibly smart crafted solutions should meet. Those are the motivations that drove our customers’ stakeholders to sponsor the project we are currently involved in.

The implications of this are really important. I cannot tell you how many times I have been involved in projects in which the customer wants to enhance its software, add features, adapt it to new requirements because of changes in their industry or their markets, or to fix defects only to come to the realization that all of this is going to take a very large amount of resources, mainly time and money, because of the poor quality of the code in their solution.

Usually I always hear the same reasons as to why this has happened. This code might have been produced by an amazingly brilliant developer who put it together in a few hours or a few days, but it is so complex that he is the only one who knows how to modify it (patch it, and keep patching it). Maybe it was the result of a very tight deadline and the team just did not have enough time to code it properly. It could have been because the managers were always pushing the developers to finish it quickly.

Regardless of the reason, the code is there and now its owner has to invest large amounts of time and money for even the simplest modifications. Guess what? The main goals cannot be met anymore since the company is spending too much money in their software’s maintenance, hence it is not helping them to save money, and it is not helping them to make the money it was supposed to.

We, as developers, need to start thinking about Total Cost of Ownership. This means how much will it cost to own this piece of software over time, and our main objective as developers should be to keep that number as low as humanly possible.

So be proud about the code you write, but focus that pride in the ease in which other developers are capable of adding features, fixing defects or modify that code in general without breaking it all over the place. Take pride in the small investment that your customer needs to put on its maintenance. Take pride in the huge business the code that you wrote is generating for your customer.

Go young grasshopper, code responsibly and make yourself proud.